A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products.”
On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J.V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S.J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute.
Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay.
Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill.” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze.
Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower,” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright.”
Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space.
The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort.”
Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low,” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here.”
John Derian was described to me as “a hunter and gatherer” of sorts by one of his employees. His company is a treasure trove of fine delights. Here, one will find an array of textiles and furniture. John’s discerning, artistic eye does not stop at fine furnishings and fabrics, be sure to stop by next door at #6 to see so much more of John Derian’s collection.
Though native to Philadelphia’s suburbs, Stuart Zamsky has earned the label of “true New Yorker” after decades of living in the East Village and running the antique shop, White Trash, half a block from his apartment. Stuart and his now-wife, Kim Wurster, were actors doing odd jobs and frequently traveling out of town in the 1990s. On their trips, they visited flea markets, stockpiling housewares, 1950s collectibles, and kitsch, which they would resell on weekends on the street outside of their home. “We amassed a huge amount of stuff” and garnered a following from neighborhood locals, Stuart said. “We just loved it. ”Over time, the couple’s sidewalk sales drew the ire of police, so they transferred their growing inventory to a nearby storefront and have continued selling beautiful furniture and “value-oriented pieces” ever since. Kim went back to teaching while Stuart managed the business — he nonetheless still relies on her good aesthetic judgment when picking his wares. Though Stuart is sometimes saddened by the migration of his fellow antique shops to isolated showrooms or online platforms, he is delighted to see that the digital age has ushered younger buyers into the world of antiquing. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, he found that people stuck at home increasingly felt the urge to “buy themselves real furniture and leave their cinder blocks and milk crates behind. ”As for the shop’s unique name, Stuart admits that it was inspired by an inside joke. When he and his wife would return to the city — hauling kitchen tables strapped to a DIY roof rack on their car and with furnishings and knickknacks poking through the windows — they would quip, “We look like the worst white trash in the world. ” Humorously, the title stuck, even as the business left its hodgepodge beginnings behind and started offering more modern pieces.
In 1989 John Derian had his art studio here. As the story goes, when people began to stop by just to view the work he was creating, he got the idea to turn the place into a store. Every time I entered this shop, I do not know where to look first. The decoupage plates that Derian is famous for – featuring old-world-style prints of sumptuous fruits, glorious seashells, and endearing love letters – occupy a mere portion of what can be found while wandering. I was also fond of the massive array of vintage dishes, from leaf-shaped plates and knobby oversized bowls to floral cake stands and hand-painted glassware. Vintage brushes, colorful light fixtures, rubber duckies, a collection of books and even old-fashioned dusters are among the display. John Derian Company is charming, crave-worthy and genius.
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious, " was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
Transformed from a building lot to a beautiful space to showcase art, the First Street Garden Art Park adds culture to 1st street. Beginning in the spring of 2012, a variety of cultural events have taken place in this art park which, in 2011, was home to the first BMW/Guggenheim project. There are scheduled weekend programs showcasing music, dance and collaborative art for adults and children. Stop by anytime and see the newly unveiled artwork constantly changing.
René Henricks, a longtime inhabitant of the East Village, feels fortunate to have spent decades being able to walk to work. After spending time as a bartender at a Latin American restaurant on East 1st Street, she eventually took over the small space across the way to give her something to do between shifts. The kiosk had undergone many transformations since the 1930s, first as a shoeshine stand, then a newspaper stall, a flower shop, and even a front for a marijuana dealer, before it became Juicy Lucy Juice Bar. Three years later, René opened a second location on the avenue to attract more customers. All of the drinks and açaí bowls are made in small batches on the spot using produce that is delivered daily. “You can’t get fresher juice anywhere else unless you make it yourself, ” René asserted. As such, her regulars continue to return for both the delicious juices and the relaxed, friendly atmosphere that pervades Juicy Lucy. “I have been lucky to watch the progression of families here. ” The kiosk holds sentimental value for many who are accustomed to visiting Juicy Lucy or passing by its corner spot every day. “The East Village has afforded me a nice lifestyle. I’m really grateful to it. ”
Tucked in the heart of the East Village, Random Accessories is a small and colorful treasure chest of hundreds of gift items that “you can send to anyone, anytime”, according to Lynn, the owner. From greeting cards to jewelry and hip T-shirts, Lynn has been committed to offering customers a diverse range of gifts since 1996. With extensive experience in jewelry buying and retail (as a manager for Brookstone), Lynn knows the formula for a good gift business: “Make it interesting and make it reasonably priced”. While Lynn, a local New Yorker, admits that she did not have a “clear, set idea” for the business when she started Random Accessories, she mentioned that over time the pieces started falling together into the cheerful and rich concept it is today. Her objective is to help people find the perfect gift, no matter the circumstances, whether they are on their way to a party or buying for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day. The key to such a goal for Lynn is variety of product. “We always have different items” Lynn said. One of the store's more plentiful areas is the baby gift section. Lynn explained that a “baby boom” of sorts over the last twelve years has made infant and toddler gifts extremely popular items. But Lynn stresses that the mix of goods is always changing, and when asked about potential new items in the future, her reply was energizing and straightforward: “We’re not limited by anything except what fits in the store”.
After making frequent trips to Mexico and being unable to stay there as she wished, Dina Leor decided to do the next best thing: She brought Mexico to New York. Her success is evident upon walking into the store: Everything is covered in paper flowers and bright colors, enough to lift the spirits of any New Yorker wandering in on a gray day. A Lilliputian party of skeletal characters dance on a shelf for Día de los Muertos and little metal charms called “Milagros” or “miracles” cover many of the pieces. Dina carries everything from simple keychains and children’s toys to elaborate folk art, but each piece has a special meaning, often explained by little handwritten cards on the shelves. Dina is an artist herself: she used to make colorful boxes. When she opened La Sirena in 1999, she was essentially creating a bigger box: A box housing art and culture. She calls it her “evolving assemblage, ” a “living altar. ”La Sirena attracts all sorts of people. While I was visiting, there was a Swiss family browsing, straight from the airport. Since Dina’s was the first store they had found, they gave her a little box of Swiss chocolates. Many of Dina’s customers, however, are regulars, and Mexicans themselves. While spending time with Dina, she told me how a Mexican man had walked in and started weeping, because the store reminded him of his grandmother and he had not been able to go home to visit her. The store is “an umbrella of the republic, ” Dina says, and many regions of Mexico are represented. Dina went on to tell me another story, while explaining that she carries items from $2 to $500. One day she had a Mexican mother come in and gush over the merchandise. The woman wanted to get something for her four children, but only had a twenty-dollar bill. Dina helped her find four hand-made items and felt very proud when the cash register read “$19. 60. ” Some of the pricier pieces in the store come from the expatriate New Yorker Sue Kreitzman, a cookbook writer-turned-artist, whose work is celebrated in England, where she now resides. She uses echoes of Mexican folk art in her work. La Sirena provides her with many materials and is proud to feature her art. The history and familial meaning behind all the art is fascinating: Dina explained to me that in Mexico, life and art are not clearly separated. Artistic items are often family efforts, and children will frequently come home from school in the afternoon and help paint or sculpt or craft. The art is “handmade by beautiful people: ” when she travels around Mexico, people welcome her into their home and give her tortillas to represent reciprocal warmth. One of the most beautiful sights that she has seen on her travels was a woman breast-feeding while making clay pieces at the home of Josefina Aguilar, now well-known in the folk art community. “It’s part of the circle of life, ” Dina says: making art among nature, raising children, and teaching them the same artistic passions. Dina herself is part of this circle of life: As the adopted daughter of Mexico, she is continuing its artistic traditions and teaching them, in turn, to New Yorkers.
A symbol of the neighborhood’s vibrant Ukrainian legacy, Arka has occupied varying East Village corners since 1951. Stepping into the E 2nd Street store is akin to taking a direct flight to Kyiv - Ukrainian folk music plays softly in the background amidst stockpiles of hand-embroidered clothes, delicately painted household goods and jewelry from the Eastern European nation. According to the owners, Arka’s clientele includes locals who are Czech, Albanian, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian. “The embroidery is my favorite, ” said co-owner Maria Drobenko, as we padded through the shop’s treasure trove of handmade goods. If you’re looking to support Ukraine and pick up a unique gift (we recommend the “name” mugs for an Eastern European spin on the classic NYC tourist tchotchke) look no further than Arka — where Ukrainian craftsmanship lives on in Alphabet City.